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Daphne Marlatt Biography

Daphne Marlatt comments:

Nationality: Canadian (originally Maylasian, immigrated to Canada in 1951). Born: Daphne Shirley Buckle, Melbourne, Australia, 1942. Education: University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1960-64, B.A.; University of Indiana, Bloomington, 1964-67, M.A. 1968. Career: Has taught at University of British Columbia, University of Victoria, University of Saskatchewan, University of Western Ontario, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary, Mount Royal College, University of Alberta, McMaster University, University of Manitoba; second vice chair of the Writers' Union of Canada, 1987-88. Awards: MacMillan and Brissenden award for creative writing; Canada Council award. Member: Founding member of West Coast Women and Words Society.



Ana Historic. Toronto, Coach House, 1988; London, Women's Press, 1990.

Taken. Concord, Ontario, Anansi, 1996.


Frames of a Story. Toronto, Ryerson, 1968.

leaf leaf/s. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow, 1969.

Rings. Vancouver, Vancouver Community Press, 1971.

Vancouver Poems. Toronto, Coach House, 1972.

Steveston, photographs by Robert Minden. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1974.

Our Lives. Carrboro, North Carolina, Truck Press, 1975.

The Story, She Said. Vancouver, Monthly Press, 1977.

What Matters: Writing 1968-70. Toronto, Coach House, 1980.

Net Work: Selected Writing, edited by Fred Wah. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1980.

here & there. Lantzville, Island Press, 1981.

How to Hug a Stone. Winnipeg, Turnstone, 1983.

Touch to My Tongue. Edmonton, Longspoon, 1984.

Double Negative, with Betsy Warland. Charlottetown, Gynergy Books, 1988.

Salvage. Red Deer, Red Deer College Press, 1991.

Ghost Works. Edmonton, NeWest Press, 1993.

Two Women in a Birth, with Betsy Warland. Toronto and New York, Guernica, 1994.


Radio Plays:

Steveston, 1976.


Zócalo. Toronto, Coach House, 1977.

Readings from the Labyrinth. Edmonton, Alberta, NeWest Press, 1998.

Editor, Lost Language: Selected Poems of Maxine Gadd. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1982.

Editor, Telling It: Women and Language Across Cultures. Vancouver, Press Gang, 1990.

Editor, Mothertalk: Life Stories of Mary Kiyoshi Kiyooka. Edmonton, Alberta, NeWest Press, 1997.

Translator, Mauve, by Nicole Brossard. Montreal, Nouvelle Barre du Jour/Writing, 1985.


Manuscript Collections:

The National Library of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

Critical Studies:

Translation A to Z: Notes on Daphne Marlatt's "Ana Historic" by Pamela Banting, Edmonton, NeWest Press, 1991; "I Quote Myself"; or, A Map of Mrs. Reading: Re-siting "Women's Place" in "Anna Historic" by Manina Jones, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1993; The Country of Her Own Body: Ana Historic, by Frank Davey, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1993.

Although I think of myself as a poet first, I began writing both fiction and lyric poems in the early 1960s. My collections of poetry have usually had a loose narrative shape as I tend to write in sequences, or "books." As an immigrant, I'd long held the ambition to write an historical novel about Vancouver, but Ana Historic actually critiqued and broke open the genre, as it also increased my fascination with the potential for openness in the novel form. Influenced by the development of "fiction/theory" in Quebec by feminist writers there, I see open structures combined with a folding or echoing of women's experiences in different time periods as a way to convey more of the unwritten or culturally overwritten aspects of what it means to be alive as a woman today.

* * *

With the arguable exception of Zócalo, a Mexican travel memoir she wrote in 1977, Ana Historic of 1988 is Daphne Marlatt's first novel. Heavily influenced by the French feminism filtering through Quebec women's writing at the time she wrote it, Ana Historic continues to excite attention from feminist critics interested in the politics of language, history, colonialism, gender, race, and sexuality.

Ana Historic is really two novels in one. In the course of doing historical research in the Vancouver City Archives for her professor husband, Richard, protagonist Annie Anderson discovers two short references to a Mrs. Richards, who comes to Vancouver in 1873 to teach school. Obsessed by the way official history erases Mrs. Richards's life, Annie begins writing a novel that imagines the life Ana Richards (Annie supplies a first name for her) might have had. This novel becomes Ana Historic 's embedded narrative. Annie's writing of this novel continually interrupts itself with reminiscences of her mother, Ina, now dead, and metacritical reflections on the process of writing itself. Underneath all of this reflective activity, in the narrative present, Annie moves slowly but steadily away from her relationship with her husband toward a sexual relationship with a woman named Zoe.

Only recently have critics focused on the lesbian aspects of Marlatt's work. Initial criticism of Ana Historic emphasized formal continuities with Marlatt's earlier writing. Certainly the etymological play in the text shows the same careful attention to language that one finds in her poetry. This poetic wordplay reaches its height in Touch To My Tongue, a book of prose poems, and the critical essay published along with it, "musing with mothertongue." In "musing," Marlatt follows Julia Kristeva in theorizing language as a living, maternal body of expressive potential that has been bastardized by patriarchy's insistence on singularity, hierarchy, and mastery. In Ana Historic, Marlatt demonstrates how patriarchal language excludes women from the dominant narrative of official history, but through both Annie's embedded narrative and the novel's etymological word-play, she also shows a way in which women might be written back into history.

Feminist critics were swift to pick up on Ana Historic as an empowering story for women. But just as the term "woman" grew increasingly complicated by vectors of race, class, and sexuality at the end of the 1980s, so did readings of Marlatt's fiction gain in complexity. Rather than focusing on Annie as a literary Everywoman, critics have begun to examine the relationships among all the characters in the novel. Particularly important to this inquiry is the status of the Native Canadian characters in the embedded narrative, because it is against their silence that Ana Richards—and, by extension, white Canadian women generally—understand their particular subject positions. In turn, the examination of native figures in the novel has opened up the possibility for considering Ina's colonial background and Annie's uneasy Canadian identity.

This recognition of specific subject positions contextualizes the lesbian ending of the story. Although Ana Historic is perhaps most easily read as a lesbian-feminist utopia that ultimately abandons history in favor of imagination, a critical reader can see in the novel an argument for rethinking gender, historically and imaginatively, in conjunction with race, sexuality, colonialism, and post-colonialism. It is such scope that makes Marlatt's fiction significant.

—Heather Zwicker

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